By Spencer Pyke
. . .
For the first time since Y2K, the fact that there is a hockey rink in Florida has been eclipsed by what's on it:
The first-place Florida Panthers.
Under first-year coach Kevin Dineen, the Panthers defeated Washington last night to move seven points ahead of the Caps in the Southeast Division standings, the largest lead in any NHL division race.
The NHL season is a long, grueling journey, but all early indications bode well for Florida, who finished dead last in the Conference last season, as they are currently third in the East behind Boston and Pittsburgh, the last two Stanley Cup Champions.
Unlike last season, the offense has been generating numerous chances and is fourth overall in power play percentage, an area of weakness last season.
Stephen Weiss had his second three-point performance in a row Monday evening and currently leads the team with a total of 29. Tomas Fleischmann and new comer Kris Versteeg are right behind him with 28 apiece.
The Cats' defense is in the top ten in goals allowed, averaging a scrappy 2.4.
Defender Brian Campbell tallied three assists last night and is now tied for second in the league with 21 total.
Behind former Caps goaltender Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen – who has yet to be defeated this season while battling knee and groin injuries – the Panthers are no longer an easy win on the schedule of opponents.
|Stephen Weiss: CGK.|
Currently #10 in the ESPN Power Rankings – Florida, who just returned from a four-game road trip, will hit the road again for their next three contests, traveling to Boston, Buffalo and New York before returning home to play New Jersey. No worries though - the Panthers are one of three teams with a league-high nine road wins.
Three quarters of the NHL season has yet to be played, but things are looking positive for the organization that has not played in the Stanley Cup since 1996.